Simposio “Europa del Este durante el comunismo: aportaciones desde la historiografía española”


Symposium “Eastern Europe in Communist times: contributions from Spanish historiography”


25-26th October 2012


Facultad de Geografía e Historia (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)



In October 25th-26th the Symposium “Eastern Europe in Communist times: contributions from Spanish historiography” was held at Universidad Complutense’s (UCM) Faculty of Geography and History. The meeting was conceived as a distended working session within an academic framework, and its main goal was to gather junior researchers interested in the Communist period in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, together with senior experts on this field.

The papers presented at the Symposium covered a wide range of specialties, such as intellectual history, museology, cultural history, political history or history of international relations.

After professor Ángel Luis Encinas’ (UCM) keynote speech on the rebirth of Jewish life in Poland, Carlos González Villa (UCM) analyzed how the United States’ foreign policy, especially its change of strategy towards the Soviet Union, influenced Yugoslavia since Ronald Reagan’s presidency (1981). González pointed out, among other conclusions, that the US’ support of Yugoslavian unity contributed to preserve its political system during some years and was an obstacle for the political reforms that the systemic crisis of the Yugoslavian federation required.

Two more papers dealt with the Balkan area in a complementary way during the Symposium. First, Enrique Uceda (University of Alicante) presented his project about the repressed nationalisms in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which were active thanks to social movements such as Croatian Matica hrvatska, its Serbian equivalent Matica srpska or Albanian-Kosovar initiatives. According to Uceda’s ongoing research, since Tito’s death these republican ideals bloomed, but have nevertheless co-existed up until today with a “Yugoslavian nostalgia”. Secondly, Alfredo Sasso (Institut Catalá de la Pau, UAB) stated the causes of the defeat of non-nationalist parties in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the transition from Communism to a multiple party system, including the political scandals of the Communist Party in the 80’s and its reluctance to internal pluralism, or the incapability of non-nationalist parties to maintain a united and coherent position in order to face Bosnian national question.

The rest of the works presented at the Symposium covered different aspects of the Communist past in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Lithuania and Russia.

The research Cristina Álvarez (UCM) presented, studied how Polish intellectual opposition milieus approached to Poland’s past and present through the analysis of historical discourses and debates available in printed media, especially uncensored publications (drugi obieg), between 1976 and 1989. This includes for instance Polish opposition inteligencja’s answers to such questions as what & how is Poland’s ethos, or which aspects of the past are still alive or should be recovered and which should be definitely overcome, together with the historicization of present time or their perception of time itself in relation to Polish past. Amelia Serraller’s (UCM) paper was also linked to intellectual history, as well as to her training as a Philologist, for it dealt with the life and works of Polish journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuściński. Her work took us back to the origins of a very popular genre in Poland, the so-called “literature of facts” (literatura faktu), and provided an overview of several episodes of Kapuściński’s biography with a journalistic, literary and even philosophic turn.

Verónica Gama (UCM) exposed in form of a virtual tour around the Museum of Genocide Victims (Vilna, Lithuania), the Memorial to the Victims of Communism and to the Resistance (Sighet, Romania) and the House of Terror (Budapest, Hungary) in order to show how are violent pasts remembered and recreated in museums and memorials and what identitary effects may have this way of putting in scene traumatic pasts.

Also based upon a comparative approach, only this time going across the Iron Curtain, Carolina Rodríguez (UCM) presented the project she is developing together with José M. Faraldo (UCM), in which they compare the nationalist policies of reconstruction of Madrid and Warsaw’s old towns and city centers after the civil War and the Second World War respectively (1939/1945-1956). On the other hand, Carlos Domper (Universidad de Zaragoza) aims to compare the electoral systems of Communist Hungary and Francoist Spain with a view to demonstrating the existence of a transnational model of elections and plebiscites, rooted in 19th Century liberalism, that was distorted and used by post-1945 European dictatorships for their own benefit.

Turning back again to international relations, but still concerning Spain, Magdalena Garrido (Universidad de Murcia) talked about the image of the Soviet Union Spaniards had during and after Francoism through the case study of the Soviet-Spanish Friendship Association, with the purpose of highlighting the importance of culture as a vehicle both for Communist political propaganda and for the image of the Soviet Union abroad in a Cold War context. Finally, Francisco José Rodrigo’s (UCM) paper aimed to prove the existence of links and transfers between Polish, Czech and Russian oppositions around the claims for Human Rights in Eastern Europe after the Conference of Helsinki (1975), and whether these contacts exerted any pressure or had any influence, for instance, in the US Congress’ “Helsinki Commission”.  

Inspired in the former Encuentros Españoles de Estudios sobre la Europa Oriental (coordinated between 1998 and 2006 by Carlos Flores Juberías), UCM’s Symposium on Communist Eastern Europe has not only given the chance to all those who have recently began their research careers to introduce their works, but has also provided a meeting place for them to share their ideas and experiences and to improve their ongoing projects, promoting the creation of networks between future specialists in Humanities and Social Sciences who will certainly contribute to a better and more widespread knowledge of Eastern European history in Spain.